The High Commissioner in Haiti (Russell) to the Secretary of State

No. 1567

Sir: I have the honor to report that the strike situation in Haiti has not improved during the past few days. As I have already stated to the Department, Mr. Hannibal Price, Secretary of State for Public Instruction and Agriculture, accepted his position in the new Cabinet under the belief that he could settle the strike. During the past few days, he has held numerous conferences with the student committee. He frankly told them that if he could not settle the strike he intended to resign and asked for their cooperation. The students made a number of demands, the principal one being for an increase in the number of bourses. The President’s arrete had increased the bourses from sixty-six to seventy-five, but the students demanded that the bourses be increased to one hundred forty-four. President Borno believed this number very excessive, but stated that he was willing in order to meet the desires of the students to increase the bourses to one hundred and to consider a raise to one hundred forty-four for the next scholastic year when the new budget was taken up in February. The student body through its committee could at that time present its requests to the school authorities who would forward them with recommendation, to the government for consideration. After discussing the matter with the Financial Adviser, I agreed to the increase of bourses to one hundred. Knowing that the students are being assisted by the politicians and urged by them to continue the strike, I doubted very much if a settlement could be arrived at, but I felt that it would be wise for the government to make every concession that could be made without the loss of prestige, thus placing the government in a better position before the people and clearly showing the absurdity of the demands.

Mr. Price yesterday informed me that he was certain that the students would accept the Government’s proposition, but in view of the injection of politics in the matter I felt quite as certain that they would not. This morning, President Borno stated that while he had not seen Mr. Price, he understood that the students demanded one hundred forty-four bourses, although at the conference of two days ago they had practically agreed to accept one hundred. I told President Borno that I thought the government had gone far enough in the matter and that in order to increase the present number of bourses, it had been necessary to obtain the funds from other items, namely, funds appropriated for the construction of an industrial [Page 184] school at St. Marc, and that, furthermore, I did not believe that the government could commit itself at this time to any augmentation of bourses for the budget for the year 1930–31. President Borno agreed with me and then said that he would like very much to take drastic action to stop political interference. I replied that I was strongly opposed to the arrest and confinement of any politician for activities in this matter, that such action would only add fuel to the flame; that, of course, government employees who sympathized with the striking students could properly be dismissed.

It appears that, stimulated by the politicians of Port-au-Prince, the students have succeeded in spreading their strike, and schools at Jacmel have been closed, the students walking out on a strike and then parading through the town, followed by a crowd of vagabonds; a few of the students attempted to break into the customs house, but the customs house employees threw them out.

The National schools at Gonaives have gone on a strike, but the Service Technique school at that port has not so far been affected. The students intend, if possible, to engage the entire school system in a strike and in addition to try and extend it to government employees and even obtain the sympathy of the merchants. In Jacmel, the merchants closed up their shops for one day as a sign of their sympathy with the striking students. To-day, about fifty of the rural farm school teachers of southern Haiti will hold a meeting in Port-au-Prince and it is almost certain that they will return to their schools and induce their students to strike. Humors are current that the customs house employees will walk out but so far the members of that organization have been entirely loyal. It is also understood that an attempt is being made to have the merchants of Port-au-Prince close up their shops for one or two days as a sign of sympathy. Articles in the Opposition press are written with a view to fomenting trouble and urging the strikers to continue the strike. Mr. Chauvet, the owner of the Nouvelliste, has stated that the situation was a wonderful one for the Opposition and the newspapers, inasmuch as the Government could not take drastic action against boys or young men and girls, and the situation could be made one to greatly embarrass President Borno’s administration. It is unquestionably the policy of the politicians to exploit the children in order to assist in obtaining their own ends. It is even stated that they desire to so embarrass the Government that President Borno will resign and rumors are in constant circulation that the strike will extend to all government branches not excluding the Garde. I doubt very much if the latter organization could be seriously affected as long as it is under the control of white officers, but the present situation clearly demonstrates the impossibility of self-government in Haiti for many years to come. One of the disagreeable features [Page 185] of the strike is the fact that a Medical Congress on Sanitation meets at the Medical School at Port-au-Prince next week, and has an elaborate program to be carried out. Fear is entertained that the success of this conference will be jeopardized in view of the fact that the medical students are still on a strike. In this connection, it appears that some days ago the medical students voted secretly on the question as to whether or not they would return but that while there was a large majority for a return, those in charge of the ballot boxes succeeded, according to Haitian custom, in changing a majority to a minority.

Power of suggestion in Haiti is particularly strong and consequently, there is a possibility of this matter assuming serious proportions especially at Port-au-Prince. Arrangements have been made to meet such an eventuality. It is hoped, however, that the fires will soon die out, particularly as Christmas is nearing and money is scarce.

Mr. Price, the Secretary of State for Agriculture and Public Instruction, has just informed me that he has learned from the president of the committee of the striking students at Damien, that one of the reasons (obviously inspired by politicians), for their desire to prolong the strike is due to a despatch from Washington, dated November 18, 1929, and published in the local press, that an American commission to investigate into conditions in Haiti12 will arrive here in January next, and the students believe that if they can throw the educational system of Haiti into a condition of entire disorder they will create, in the minds of such a commission, the idea that they have been badly treated and that the educational system is wrong, etc.

Mr. Price further states that yesterday they agreed to all the concessions made by the Government but demanded that a presidential arrete be issued covering this entire matter before they went back to school. The last paragraph of the Government’s proposition to the students is to the effect that immediately upon their returning to school, and taking up their course, the presidential arrete covering the preceding paragraphs of the Government’s proposition will be published. The students, however, stated that they had no faith in the Government’s declaration and they wanted the arrete published before they went back to school. This, of course, the Government refused to do, but it has met the situation by publishing the entire text of the proposal in all the local papers. It is hoped that this action on the part of the Government will place the students in such a position that they will be forced to accept and return to their school on December 2nd, 1929. If they fail, however, to return to [Page 186] their school on that date, the Government’s proposal will stand cancelled.

I have [etc.]

John H. Russell
  1. See pp. 204 ff.